Bella At Midnight by Diane Stanley

First, let me reiterate the lack of vampires in this book. Like I said, no vampires. This is a medieval retelling of Cinderella, reminiscent of Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, but slightly more sophisticated.


At the beginning of the book we witness Bella's birth, to a mother who is the daughter of a wealthy glassmaker, and a noble but coldhearted father. Her mother dies soon after Bella is born, and her father sends her to live with her poor aunt. Bella is raised in her aunt Maud's family, as their daughter. Julian, the prince of the kingdom Moranmoor, spends much time with Maud (who was his wet nurse when he was younger) and Bella, and the two become best friends.


When Moranmoor and their rival kingdom Brutanna decide to end a hundred-year-long war, however, Julian is called away from his country home to be part of a prisoner exchange. Bella is also forced to leave the only home she's ever known when her father remarries, and sends her to live with her stepmother and sisters. They are cruel and jealous towards her, but she befriends the cook and spends much of her time in the kitchen.


One day her stepsister Marianne, who is a lady-in-waiting for Moranmoor's queen, brings the news that the king of Moranmoor is planning to break the treaty and attack neighboring Brutanna secretly, with no regard for the Prince Julian. Bella, who is deeply unhappy in her home and still cherishes the memory of sunny days with her friend, leaves her stepfamily and stages a dramatic and stereotype-breaking rescue that will fulfill the dreams of many girls.


Ages 8 to 13 will enjoy this book the most, depending on their reading level and interests. The content is fairly innocuous-war, drinking, and childhood abandonment are included but not focused on. Readers of all ages will love the ending; happy, mostly realistic, and thrilling.


Other things I liked about this book:

The shifting perspectives. Bella's story is told by characters including Maud, her aunt, Julian, a prince who is her childhood friend, her stepfamily, and Bella herself. This fills out the plot, giving the reader a more comprehensive story without monotonous or confusing details.

The book is divided into three main parts: The Thimble, the Ring, and the Slippers, each of which play an important part of the story. I loved how the classic "glass slippers" or the original Cinderella were adeptly woven into the story, instead of awkwardly added to make the book seem more complete.

The language, while deliberately old-fashioned, isn't too hard to understand, and reads naturally.

The format of the book, while unillustrated, includes many decorative swirls and elegant fonts that add to the romantic feeling of the story.





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